MoneySpousal maintenance, or alimony, is one of the most difficult issues in divorce. How much? How long? Can it be modified? These are the questions that must be answered by divorcing couples. Faced with having to support two households rather than one, money is usually tight. Both parties wonder if they’ll have enough, creating fear all around. Clients ask me, “What would a judge do in my case?” The Minnesota spousal maintenance statute instructs the court to “consider “all relevant factors, including” and lists eight such factors. Predicting how a particular judge will apply the statute in a particular case is impossible. Looking at previous decisions in other cases involving the issue of spousal maintenance can also prove frustrating. Few cases are actually decided by the courts, and the facts in every case are unique, making comparison difficult. Minnesota is not alone in its lack of guidance on this issue. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that several states are currently considering proposals to amend alimony laws. Some of the proposed changes include creating formulas to determine the amount and duration of spousal support. Others call for an end to permanent alimony altogether. While consistency and predictability are admirable goals, I question whether new legislation will produce fairer outcomes. Asking a judge to apply the law can be frightening. Having to live with a third-party’s decision can create resentment. So how can divorcing couples resolve this difficult issue without giving up control of the outcome? The Collaborative divorce process uses interest-based negotiation to guide discussion of spousal maintenance. A financial neutral (hired jointly by the parties) guides them, using the following steps:
  1. Help both parties identify their goals and interests
  2. Gather all relevant information regarding income and budgets
  3. Generate settlement options
  4. Evaluate settlement options
  5. Put the agreement into writing
The Collaborative process requires full disclosure of all financial information by both spouses and encourages honest, respectful discussion. Because both parties have actively participated in the creation of their support agreement, they can move forward with less fear and resentment. This process represents the best way I have found for divorcing couples to resolve this challenging issue. To learn more, visit the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota website.

The most common mistake I have seen couples make during divorce might surprise you. It’s something that is done unknowingly. It’s done with good intentions. It’s something our culture has taught us to do.

So what is it? It’s choosing an attorney before choosing a process. When confronted with the reality of separation or divorce, your first step may be to ask friends, co-workers or family members for the names of good family law attorneys. Seeking a referral from a trusted acquaintance seems to make sense given the extremely personal nature of this legal event. It certainly is preferable to doing a Google search.

It’s important to realize, however, that, in addition to having varying degrees of competence, different attorneys use diverse methods of conflict resolution. A well-intentioned family member or friend may recommend a litigation attorney who is most comfortable in a courtroom. If you think you will need a judge’s help in reaching a fair resolution, you should look for a lawyer with this particular skill set. On the other hand, if you are more concerned about the impact your separation will have on your children, and prefer to maintain more privacy and control during the process, Collaborative practice may be a better process option for you and your family. If that’s the case, you and your spouse or partner should look for attorneys who specialize in the Collaborative process.

Separation and divorce are among life’s most challenging events. Choosing the right process first, then attorneys, is the safest way to proceed.

Compromise is a necessary part of life. Differences inevitably arise in our personal and work lives. Resolution of these differences generally takes place through negotiation. The goal of negotiation is to reach an understanding, which means compromise. calvin and hobbes cartoon Is Calvin right? How would you describe a good compromise? Does it leave everybody mad? Is a compromise that leaves anybody mad really a good one? I don’t thinks so. Generally speaking, there are two recognized methods of negotiation:
  • Distributive bargaining, also known as “win-lose,” “zero-sum,” and “divide-the-pie” negotiation, assumes that resources are fixed and that future relationship between the parties is unimportant. Everyday examples include buying a house or car.
  • Integrative bargaining, also known as “win-win,” “interest-based,” and “expand-the-pie” negotiation, can lead to better outcomes when issues are complex and the parties value their future relationship.
Divorce typically involves multiple, complex, ongoing issues, including parenting, property and cash flow. Divorcing couples, especially those with children, are interested not only in a fair settlement, but also in having a comfortable post-divorce relationship. They want to be able to co-parent their children effectively. Most want to put family members and friends at ease without having to take sides.  They also want to be able to participate in graduations, weddings, holiday gatherings and other social events without the angst that they have seen their divorced friends and family members experience. Traditional divorce processes encourage the parties to take positions on various issues, exchange settlement proposals, and, ultimately, either make compromises or go to trial. Compromises are made and one or both parties are mad. The Collaborative law process, however, uses interest-based negotiation techniques to help them to achieve these interests. Use of integrative bargaining encourages them to express their goals, which more often than not are shared goals. Once the relevant information has been gathered, the parties have the often-difficult conversations about their fears and hopes. They are encouraged to generate and evaluate potential settlement options. Agreeing to a plan for the future requires compromise by each party. But because the compromises follow open, cooperative discussion and are made for the benefit of the family as a whole, they can leave everybody hopeful about the future … not mad.
MoneyI read an interesting article in the Star Tribune this week, “Till Debt Do Us Part,” about the challenges faced by newlyweds with student loan debt, particularly when one partner has more debt that the other. This got me thinking about the strong connection between money and divorce. Money issues are the number one reason clients give me for the failure of their relationships. Debt is usually a contributing factor. In my career as a collaborative divorce attorney, clients have shared their very personal stories with me. Sometimes the story-telling is tearful and filled with regret. Other times it is angry and filled with resentment. Tension over finances can evoke negative emotions and poison otherwise loving relationships. In some cases, money issues are caused by factors outside of anyone’s control, such as job loss, a tough economy, or illness. The resulting instability can be temporary or long-term and affects the entire family. In my experience, however, disagreements about money arise when parties come into marriage with different attitudes and feelings about money. These differences gradually reveal themselves over time, eventually affecting other aspects of the relationship. Even marriages of caring, committed spouses are at risk. So how can divorce over money be avoided? Awareness is the first step. Each of us grew up in a family with its unique money culture. Whether we realize it or not, our ideas and values have been influenced by our childhood experiences. Many parents are reluctant to talk openly with their children about money, leaving the children to unknowingly form their own set of beliefs. Failure to recognize these hidden internal attitudes and assumptions in ourselves and others leads to misunderstanding and blame. The good news is that open discussion of money matters can help couples identify their differences and protect their relationships.  Key questions include:
  • How will we manage our day-to-day finances?
  • How much should we be spending vs. saving?
  • Which budget items constitute “needs” vs. “wants”?
  • Will all of our money be considered joint or will we each have our separate funds?
  • How does each of us define “financial security”?
  • What are our retirement goals?
These same questions are critical to couples who have decided to divorce. In the collaborative divorce process, a team of collaborative professionals encourages the couple to look closely at their finances as they establish separate households.  Rather than make assumptions, both spouses are asked to describe their goals. The settlement discussions that follow help to produce a settlement plan that achieves as many of their goals as possible. To find out more about the collaborative divorce process, visit
Water liliesMost of us are familiar with the concept of holistic medicine. The importance and interdependence of body, mind and spirit in our overall health is becoming accepted in the world of healing. Less well known, however, is the Collaborative divorce process, which utilizes a holistic approach to help struggling families heal. Collaborative practice uses a team of experts who work with the parents and their children to achieve deeper resolution. Contrary to popular belief, divorce is not just a legal event. As countless couples in the throes of separation can attest, accusations about the past and fears about the future can make constructive conversation impossible. Frustration sets in and one or both parties “lawyer up.” So begins the all-too-often lengthy, unpleasant and expensive process of litigation, during which parents are often discouraged from communicating with one another. Fortunately, another option exists. In Collaborative divorce, both parties have Collaboratively-trained attorneys providing guidance throughout the process. In addition, they jointly use a team of neutral professionals to address their communication, financial, parenting and emotional issues. A series of meetings takes place in which these interdependent issues are discussed and resolved without court involvement. In this way, divorcing parties maintain more control over both the process and the outcome. Integrative medicine uses a team of specialists who communicate with one another to achieve optimum health for the patient. The Collaborative divorce process parallels this model by bringing together a team of divorce experts. This more humane method of dispute resolution can facilitate healing and result in a healthier post-divorce family.